Near Field Communication (NFC)

Sarkis Agaian
June 13, 2012

Submitted as coursework for PH250, Stanford University, Spring 2012

Fig. 1: Google Wallet using NFC (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Near field communication, or NFC, is a form of contactless communication between devices like tablets or smartphones. [1-6] It is a derivative of radio frequency identification technology (RFID) in which one device sends information by "touching" another device. [1-6] It designed for low bandwidth (up to 424 kBaud) and short distance (up to 20 cm) communication. [2]

Key Advantages and Applications

NFC technology has several key advantages over existing technologies. [1-6] NFC does not require line of sight nor does it require special software. [1,3,6] It provides an easy and simple connection method, even to non-self powered devices. [6] In contrast to other wireless technologies like Bluetooth, NFC is also a means of storing data. [5] NFC technology can be used to replace actions that require touching, such as manual typing and menu selections. [4] In addition, NFC has been used to develop some gaming technology such as Angry Bird Magic and Fruit Ninja. [2] Social applications such as Foursquare also utilize NFC. [2]

How it Works

NFC uses magnetic induction to communicate between two devices. [2] A device using NFC generates a low frequency radio-wave field in the 13.56-MHz spectrum. [5] The space between the two devices is bridged when one of the devices emits a small electric current and generates a magnetic field. [2] This magnetic inductive coupling transfers energy between devices at close distances. [1,2] The range for which magnetic induction works is approximately c/2pf, where c is a constant (the speed of light) and f is the frequency; this means that as the frequency increases, the distance over which near field transfer can occur decreases. [2] Since magnetic inductive coupling can be implemented in silicon, vendors can develop one chip integrating NFC system's analog modulator/demodulator, antenna, and other digital circuitry to send and receive signals. [1] The use of magnetic coupling also differentiates NFC from other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. [1]


NFC is an technology that allows a user to wave a tablet or smartphone over another device to communicate information intuitively and over a short range. [1-6] NFC is compatible with existing RFID infrastructures and enjoys several key advantages over existing technologies; these advantages include ease of use and the ability to both transmit and store data. [1-6] Moroever, since NFC uses magnetic coupling which is implemented in silicon, an NFC system can be designed using one chip. [1] In the future, we may see, NFC expand to accommodate other wireless technologies. [1]

© Sarkis Agaian. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. Ortez, Jr., "Is Near-Field Communication Close to Success?" IEEE Computer, 39 , 18 (2006).

[2] R Want, "An Introduction to RFID Technology", IEEE Pervasive Computing, 5, No. 1, 25 (2006).

[3] "Information technology - Telecommunications and Information Exchange Between Systems - Near Field Communication - Interface and Protocol (NFCIP-1)," International Organization for Standardization, ISO/IEC 18092:2004, March 2004.

[4] J. Riekki, I. Sanchez and M. Pyykkönen, "NFC-Based User Interfaces," IEEE 4th International Workshop on Near Field Communication, 3 (2012).

[5] R.G Mair, "Protocol-Independent Detection of Passive Transponders for Near-Field Communication Systems, Instrumentation and Measurement", IEEE Trans. 59, 814 (2010).

[6] K. Ok et al., "Current Benefits and Future Directions of NFC Services", Intl. Conf. on Education and Management Technology ICEMT, 334 (2010).